Steven is curled up in a yellow gray ball on a bed that has now outgrown him.
The nurse is outside the room playing computer games even though it’s clear that Steven’s shit himself and needs to be changed.
We’re all past the point of medical outrage and more interested in the dignity. We bring her in and resist the urge to smash the computer to bits, over her head perhaps. It’s not her fault, we’re all on edge and looking for a villain. Our villain is AIDS and we can’t beat it up or throw any more money at it.
Larry brings Push Ups for Steven and coffee for Mom. I stand there clutching my purse feeling inept.
His liver is shot. There’s a number that’s supposed to be at 1 and currently is at 12 but has been as high as 24.
Everyone cries and prays for his swift exit but no one will tell him. No one wants to disturb a dying man.
His mother whispers in the hallway that she’s being strong for him.
He grits his teeth and says he’s got to live for his mother.
I silently respect the dance that is their relationship and say nothing.
Steven will not let go of life without permission from his mother.
I will have to stop visiting soon. I need to remember Steven as the man who would dance all night with me and then help me do my hair in the morning. I need to remember Steven as the man who gave me my first job but refused to fire me even though I was terrible at it, the man who knew I’d be leaving for college soon and wanted to be my friend.
I need to remember that Steven would still be my friend even though he’d sidled around the topic of me having a baby for him and I’d flatly refused, even given him a tongue lashing about adoption… and he was still my friend.
So I answer my cell phone cautiously waiting for the call and hoping my children don’t hear the sounds of grown men sobbing because that is worse than the reality.
Larry, Steve and Robert, all casual acquaintances over the years are now men whom I’m loving and rocking and crying with; safe in the asexual love of a gay man; they’re safe with someone’s mother loving them. It’s symbiotic and it’s fleeting because we can’t maintain these relationships.
We say, “I love you.” knowing full well that we love each other because of our common love of Steven slipping away but after the funeral, after we leave the Deep South and the humidity and the Kudzu that will glorify his funeral and memorial service that we will all surely attend…. after all of that is over we will be strangers again. Strangers that once loved one another but cannot put all that energy into a new relationship.
I love Steven so much that I can’t wait for him to go. We all agree.
APLA helped us all through Steven’s illness and ultimately his death. If you need them, they are at APLA.org.